This Gurugram-based startup is helping women in villages across Himachal knit a brighter future
When her son was born in 2009, Kanchan Vaidya, now 38, remembers the struggle she had to find warm and beautiful woollens for him. “To my surprise, there were no brands selling hand-knit woollen wear even in the online space,” she says.
Kanchan, an HR manager working in an Australian company, felt many new mothers must be facing the same problem, and decided to venture on the entrepreneurial path. The first woman in her family to leave her home in Himachal Pradesh for a corporate career, she’s now the first entrepreneur in the family. In 2015, Kanchan started The Original Knit, a Gurugram-based startup that sells handmade woollen wear for babies and toddlers.
But the best part, according to Kanchan, is that apart from bringing attractive products to the market, she’s helping create livelihoods for women in villages.
Returning to her roots
Kanchan has fond memories of her hometown Mandi, of women sitting outside their homes knitting woollens, chatting in the afternoon as they soaked up the sun. Keen to see if she could involve women in her venture, she decided to undertake a month-long trip to Dhauladhar and Spiti in early 2015.
She travelled to small villages in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh, and started connecting with village women to see how they could join hands. Initially, Kanchan convinced the women by telling them that their hobby of making hand-knit woollens could help them run their house, and make their life easier by helping them buy necessities like an LPG cylinder. Says Kanchan,
“Many such women didn’t have men at home; they were away working in Delhi, Allahabad, or Bengaluru. All they were getting every month was in Rs 2,000-3,000.”
The initial convincing wasn’t easy, but she managed to get 10 women on board.
Bringing women together
Kanchan started experimenting and worked out a hub-n-spoke business model. She employed designers and would distribute designs and drawings over WhatsApp; these were printed to scale and given to village women along with needle sets and wool.
“The women were paid the same day of getting the product. This slowly became a chain reaction and more women groups started signing up,” Kanchan says.
“This not only helped us get good products to the market, but also transformed the lives of scores of women who today receive timely payments for their work and take pride in their work,” she says, adding that many of these women are the sole breadwinners of their families.
In the winter of 2015, Kanchan started sharing designs on Facebook and accepting orders. In the first month, her page received 5,000 likes and about 300 prepaid, firm orders. This was when she decided that she was on the right track and registered her business officially.
The Original Knit offers products that are 100 percent handmade in soft wool and different colours, patterns, and designs. The range includes sweaters, dresses, caps, socks, booties, and ponchos, and prices start at Rs 250. The products are available online on platforms like Firstcry and Hopscotch, and at a few retail outlets, including Firstcry stores across the country and stores in smaller cities like Bhopal, Bareilly, Palakkad, and Jalgaon.
“Ever since our launch on Firstcry in 2015, we have become a bestselling mompreneur brand,” Kanchan says.
By 2018, she had a network of 300+ women across Delhi, Punjab and Himachal. The women function as self-helping groups “wherein a group commits to supply an order and some often work extra if a few members default”.
Warming up to the future
The products are aggregated in Gurugram, where they are washed and finished with metal or satin embellishments. Quality checks are done in Gurugram, after which the woollens are packed and dispatched to online and offline retailers. Over the last two years, products have also been shipped to the US, Europe, and the MENA region.
Kanchan, who started The Original Knit with Rs 20,000 of her personal savings, garnered revenues of Rs 45 lakh in 2016, and Rs 1 crore in 2017. She’s aiming for Rs 3.5 crore in revenue for the year 2018-19.
Speaking about her startup’s growth, Kanchan says, “Our offline sales are bulk B2B orders that get shipped within India and overseas to the US, Kuwait, Belgium, UK etc.”
The Original Knit's knitwear is not the only handmade woollen brand in India. Brands like Babyhug, MayRa, Knitting nani, Nappy Monster, and Maitri Craft are also present in the market.
Kanchan said she is now trying to convince corporates to partner as part of their CSR activities to create a credible and auditable social impact in the remote villages of Himachal which remain inaccessible for three months when the roads are snowbound.